Rick Downes: six election commitments

Introducing the candidates for Kingston and the Islands

Downes says the theme of his campaign is fairness.
Downes says the theme of his campaign is fairness.

Growing up in a working-class family, NDP candidate Rick Downes said he became aware early on of the inadequacy of minimum wage in Ontario.

“Last December, [Premier Dalton] McGuinty gave himself a $20,000 pay raise,” Downes said. “Then two months later, he raised the minimum wage. Do you know how much it was? It was just 25 cents.” At today’s minimum wage of $8, one can earn $16,000 in a year, which puts them $6,000 below the poverty line.

Downes said the lack of commitment towards raising the minimum wage “tipped the balance” for him to run for the provincial election.

“The theme of my campaign is fairness,” he said.

The direst issue to be addressed in Kingston is the shortage of doctors, Downes said.

“There are 20,000 residents [in Kingston] who don’t have a family doctor,” he said. To solve this problem, he plans to apply for a special grant to the government that would identify Kingston as an underserviced area, and use the money to attract doctors.

“Our current city member [Gerretsen] said in 1999 [as opposition] that, ‘I have 50 people calling my office every day saying they don’t have doctors,’” Downes said. “For the last four years, he’s done nothing.”

With NDP party leader Howard Hampton, Downes developed six commitments that are “do-able, practical and all costed out.” The six commitments include creating a health rebate of up to $450 for everyone making less than $80,000; increasing the minimum wage to $10; creating textbook grants and special education envelopes; removing barriers in universities, colleges and training by making them more affordable; reducing hospital wait times; and establishing a right-to-know law for toxins and environmental hazards.

Downes’ political history is varied—his first experience was as a school board trustee, a position he won by 33 votes. Afterwards, he served as a Kingston city councillor for three terms, where he helped develop a smoke-free bylaw three years ago.

“Kingston had the most comprehensive bylaws in Ontario,” he said. “Soon after, Ontario took the Kingston bylaw to use as a provincial legislation. I’m very proud of that.” After serving on the public health board, Downes ran as a candidate for mayor last year, and came in a close second to incumbent Harvey Rosen.

As vice-principal at James R. Henderson Public School, Downes said he understands the importance of quality education.

“In Ontario schools, parents do a lot of fundraising for things like textbooks,” he said. “But textbooks are something that governments should pay for; fundraising should be for extras.”

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